Here’s what we played during the Steam Game Festival – Part 1

Gare – Monday, June 22, 2020 7:25 PM
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As a result of the ongoing global pandemic, a new trend has emerged in the game industry: digital events taking the place of actual, physical trade shows. One such digital event is Steam’s so-called Game Festival, which essentially allowed everyone around the world to try out early demo versions for a large selection of upcoming games – needless to say, we felt compelled to dive right into the thick of it and take several promising titles for a spin. Here are our quick thoughts on each of them:

Cris Tales

Boy, was this a huge surprise. Like, it took a total of five seconds for Cris Tales to completely mesmerize me and leave me spellbound for the rest of the demo’s duration. It’s a game brimming with charm and creativity that blends a striking visual style with a classic JRPG battle system and a time manipulation mechanic; for example, you’d cast a water spell on an enemy’s shield, then use your time powers to send it to the future, causing it to instantly rust, and thus making it easier to break in battle. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the game will utilize these mechanics – there’s honestly loads of potential here. The music is also top-notch, by the way, and reminded me of something I’d hear in a mainline Final Fantasy installment, which is quite possibly the highest praise I can give a soundtrack. All in all, the demo of Cris Tales gets two thumbs up from me.

Jack Move

Come for the cute pixel art, stay for the fun battle system. And the cute pixel art. Jack Move is essentially a retro-style JRPG with a cyberpunk flair: whenever you’re thrown into a cyberspace battle, you’ll have to fight battles where attacks are called hacks, spells are software, and the pieces of gear you equip to boost your character are your hardware. Funky terminology aside, Jack Move plays like a classic RPG, with turn-based battles, different spell types that allow you to exploit your enemies’ weaknesses, and “limit break”-type skills called Jack Moves that can only be used once in a while, but are guaranteed to dish out tons of damage… provided you don’t mess up the accompanying quick time event. It may be all stuff we’ve seen elsewhere, but familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Jack Move provides the kind of JRPG comfort food that’ll leave you craving seconds. Oh, and the main heroine is super cute. Just had to point that out.

Gloomwood

If you like either Thief or Dishonored, you’ll want to play this thing, because it’s basically a combination of those two franchises with bits of survival horror thrown into the mix. Sneak through poorly-lit corridors (yes, there’s a light gem!), stab people in the neck with a sword disguised as a walking cane, or throw bottles to create distractions – the world is your oyster. There are also multiple pathways to take, hidden switches and secret tunnels to find, and plenty of opportunities for stealth, making the Thief fan in me squeal with joy. On the standard difficulty level, saving is also limited to designated save points, but hey, at least you don’t need ink ribbons, right?

Haven

Loved the music and the art style – still somewhat undecided about the rest. Haven is about two lovers stuck on a distant planet, and while the game does try to add bits of romance to its “we have to survive” plot, the dialogue between the two leads didn't really do much for me in the demo. Combat also felt overly simplistic, relying on the player holding down two buttons and releasing them at the right moment – and then repeating that over and over again until all enemies are defeated. I didn’t dislike the demo, but by the time I was done with it, I felt more than ready to move on to something else.

Eldest Souls

If you thought this game would be kind of like Dark Souls... well, you were right. The demo wastes no time showing you exactly what you’ve signed up for: the very first enemy you meet within minutes of starting the game is the so-called Watchdog, a boss that has no problem ripping you apart in literal seconds. With enough practice and a solid grasp of the mechanics, though, the foul pooch can be downed: perfectly timed dodges will replenish your stamina to allow for continued dodging, while holding the attack button gives you a temporary buff that lets you leech HP from your enemy with every successful hit. The second boss you face is even more brutal – when I first came upon the so-called Guardian, a single swing of its weapon immediately robbed me of roughly 80% of my health. Even as a long-time fan of the Souls series, the difficulty spike here felt more than a little absurd to me, but perhaps I’ve just gotten rusty over the years.

Vigil: The Longest Night

This one’s another 2D action-RPG, albeit a notably less punishing one. Vigil: The Longest Night adopts a side-scrolling presentation instead of Eldest Souls’ isometric view, and is generally a much more player-friendly experience. Combat feels all right, though it does kind of devolve into mindless button-mashing at times; on the bright side, you can wield a variety of different weapons like longswords, halberds, dual daggers or even bows, and spend points in the individual skill trees of each type to customize your play style. Bows, for example, can utilize different arrow types, halberds are slow but can deal massive damage with charged-up attacks, and swords allow you to block and reduce incoming damage. Sadly, the writing in the demo is a little unpolished, and the strangely casual style of the characters’ dialogue doesn’t really mesh well with the somber, medieval atmosphere the game seems to be going for. That aside, though, Vigil is a fun game that checks all the necessary boxes for me – it’s got attractive 2D visuals, a gloomy atmosphere, a decently satisfying combat system and enough customization to make you want to try different builds. It’s definitely a project I’ll be keeping an eye on.

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